Baseball At Drew University

Spalding’s Guide to the Rescue

How could a boy graduating low in his high school class get into college? Through his knowledge of baseball!

Dr. William Tolley, then dean of Brothers College at Drew University, told in a book he wrote much later, At the Fountain of Youth, how Seymour appeared one day in his office with a sponsor (Tolley thought he remembered that the older person was Seymour’s high school principal, but actually it was his minister).

“When they appeared in my office, I learned that the boy, Harold ‘Cy’ Seymour, ranked 299 in a class of 303” and told the sponsor that “the case was hopeless.” But Cy’s minister insisted that the young man had the potential to succeed.

Tolley turned to the boy. “What do you know?”

“Baseball,” Seymour answered. So Tolley borrowed a Spalding Guide from the college library and questioned Seymour about the life and batting average of Ty Cobb, the pitching record of Christy Mathewson, and the records of other stars. “No matter what I asked, he had the correct answer.” Tolley decided to give the boy a chance to prove himself and assigned him to Professor Sherman Plato Young, who taught Latin and Greek, who would act as Seymour’s faculty advisor and would coach baseball.

Tolley continued, “Cy was not an easy student to handle.” In addition, “He knew more about coaching than Professor Young.”

Seymour Takes Charge

At Drew, said Henry Thomas, a 1940 graduate, Seymour was “the centerpiece of the college’s first team, actually the first baseball coach and the first polished player at the same time. Sherman Young [the professor of Latin who was the nominal coach] went to great efforts to learn from many, but first from Seymour, his first baseman on the original team.”

This situation derived from the fact that Brothers College of Drew University was new. It had just opened in 1930, and the entire student body numbered only 75. Professor Sherman “Doc” Young had never coached baseball and although he loved the game he knew nothing about coaching it. That fall Doc assembled those interested in baseball for a scrub game and then spoke about team plans. When he finished he invited questions. Only Harold Seymour had one: “Are we going to play to win?” Doc seemed a bit taken aback but assured Seymour that winning was the intention.

When Young took sick just before the team’s first season in 1931, Seymour’s teammates, who knew of his coaching background, asked him to take charge. As Seymour put it later, “The simple fact was that I was the only one competent to handle the job.” So Seymour managed the team during his freshman year and was in effect its coach. When Doc Young returned at mid-season, Seymour expected to withdraw, but Young told him to carry on.

From then on, although Young was the nominal coach, he depended on Seymour for giving instruction in how to play positions, teaching game strategy, training the fellows, selecting opponents, and organizing everything. During games, when Young felt unsure how to direct his men, he and Seymour would go into a huddle, and Young would find out what should be done in that particular situation.

With a weak and inexperienced squad, the club lost every game until the very last one, with New Haven, when Seymour caught a pop fly to end the game. Doc rose from the bench yelling and waving his cane in exultation, then sent a telegram in Latin to the college dean: “We came. We saw. We conquered” paraphrasing Caesar’s famous message “Veni Vede Vici.” The following year the team began winning.

A Key Contribution

Upon Seymour’s graduation in 1934, Young wrote him, “As long as baseball lasts at Drew, your name must be central in any discussion of the sport.” Young admitted in 1954, “When you first knew me at Drew I knew nothing about baseball,” but “you were always so decent to me. . . . You always kept perspective and never embarrassed me.” Just as Seymour became a mentor to the young men of his Parade Grounds clubs, Professor Young became Seymour’s lifelong mentor.

Twenty years later Young wrote Seymour admiringly, “You had a serious and significant part in laying the foundation for something permanent in the college life.” The other boys on the team, said Young, “exemplified your spirit,” and you built “character in their lives.” Young added that one of his teammates, Joe Mele, once told him that Seymour “saved him from being a juvenile delinquent.”

At Drew Seymour also wrote sports for the college paper, was a member of the first student athletics committee, and became a council representative in the student government.

The game’s first captain (1931), he also hit the first run ever scored by a ball player for Drew University. Seymour was also Drew’s star hitter. His four-year average was .425; in two years he hit .500, and one year .514. After Seymour graduated, the local newspaper columnist recalled his career, stating that Seymour “loved the game and knew more about baseball than anyone who has ever been at Drew,” adding that he “could sing in four languages and swear in a dozen.” Once in 1985 a Drew teammate, Phil Burdett, wrote teasingly to Seymour about having taught Doc Young how to swear. In his reply Seymour admitted that “I may have taught Young some profanity, but he was already well grounded in it. Anything I contributed was on a graduate level.”

College Strategy

One of Seymour’s teammates, Al (“Al Simmons”) Jones, wrote Seymour in the last year of his life with memories of some humorous Drew events: “Most of the things I’m remembering I shouldn’t repeat, but some are still funny, like the mental picture I have of Doc Young charging after an umpire with his chubby cheeks flapping; we tried to imitate him but never succeeded. Then there was the time with you at bat and me at third when we tried a squeeze, but you missed the bunt. Then you got in front of the catcher and wouldn’t let him past to tag me, and the umpire called me safe at home but called you out. I’m sure that ump never made it to the big leagues. I remember another time when a runner tried to take off from first on a single, but you were holding him by the belt! He never made it. Even Dave Simons, playing third, got into that act and forced a runner rounding third to make a detour by way of Chicago in order to get around him. We never got over that.”

A permanent contribution to the College is Seymour’s suggestion that Drew’s academic robes include hoods in the Drew colors. The college accepted the idea, and since then the green-and-gold hood has been part of Drew academic regalia. His later article, “Modern Scholars in Ancient Garb,” explained the history of academic regalia and what the colors and styles of hoods signified. This article is still reprinted annual in the North Shore Community College commencement program, to explain to guests what they are seeing in the academic procession.

While at Drew Seymour was able to twice attend spring training with a club in organized baseball, where he brought two of his young fellows from “kid teams” he ran. (Link to kid teams) The two young fellows became successful, and while at camp Seymour talked baseball with his new friend, the manager, George “Specs” Toporcer (link to Toporcer below). This experience led to his being named a “bird dog,” unofficial scout, for the Boston Red Sox.

Baseball and Education

Seymour’s experience at Drew inspired one of his best education articles, “Books Before Baseball,” published in SABR’s magazine, The National Pastime, in 1982. It derives largely from his experience as a college student who learned that academics should be placed ahead of athletics.

Another is “Call Me Doctor!” written for the Educational Record in 1958. In this article Seymour recommended that holders of the highest degree that can be awarded, the Ph.D., should stop hiding it and permitting physicians, whose degree is actually a lower-level degree, to benefit almost exclusively from the public recognition of its value. Time Magazine poked gentle fun at this piece, but it got favorable comment in the AAUP Bulletin, Newsweek Magazine, and Harper’s Magazine. Other journals asked permission to reprint it.

Seymour also wrote “A Communist in the Classroom” for the Journal of Higher Education, revealing that he had invited a communist (and a capitalist) to his college class for students to question and learn from. I believe that the Fenn College administration disapproved of the publication of this article, thinking that Seymour was permitting students to be brainwashed instead of realizing that the experience of listening critically and challenging these speakers gave the students excellent training in questioning economic philosophies.

On Seymour’s death I donated to Drew’s Athletic Hall of Fame a small gold baseball and watch chain that had been presented to him at graduation by his lifetime mentor, Doc Young, a gift he had cherished throughout the years.